The Mother Tongue Language Festival, organised by the National Library, is held between 6 and 13 September 2014. So it is an opportune time to review some good-quality Chinese picture books, originally written in English, Japanese or French.
Age Range: 5 years and above
Chinese standard: Intermediate
Availability: This book is available as an app, and has been considered one of the ‘Best Book Apps of 2013’. The English edition has a different title, ‘Phileas’s Fortune: A Story About Self-Expression.
The Big Word Factory by Agnès de Lestrade is an award-winning picture book. Originally written in French and translated into Chinese, it is a charming tale about the beauty and power of words, and the power of the heart to touch the hearts of others.
The reader is taken to a peculiar place where a factory produces words like consumer goods. Angry and elegant words are marked down as sale items. Worthless words are discarded in alleys.
In this peculiar place the people hardly speak. Speaking is too expensive and too laborious.
First they have to purchase the words. Next they have to chew and swallow each word. Finally they have to wait for an appropriate time to articulate the words.
Phileas wants to tell Cybele, “I love you” but he cannot afford it. Instead we watch the resourceful and courageous Phileas woos Cybele with 3 other words: – Cherry, Dust, Chair.
My Thoughts – Heart of the Matter
The Big Word Factory is a good picture book with intricate layers and textures that are waiting to be unpeeled and uncovered. Poetically written and translated, this book is a great resource for children to build their word bank [English and Chinese]. If you are a word-lover and enjoy savouring the texture and flavour of every word, this book is for you. This story is also a love story for romantics.
We often hear it’s not what we say but how we say it that matters. This story points to a fundamental truth: the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Phileas’ 3 words do not seem to stand a chance with rival Oscar‘s string of words. However, Phileas, heartfelt expression of each word, his gifting of these precious pearls he has struggled to gather finally tugs Cybele’s heart.